Category: Entrepreneurship

Jul 13 2017

The Loneliness of an Entrepreneur

This showed up in my inbox the other day from a friend of 20 years. He’s been involved in a number of companies that we’ve invested in over the years in different senior and/or co-founder roles, including CEO. It was short and sweet but captured the essence of something I often talk about with founders.

Heard you and Jerry on CPR this morning, nice job!

What struck me was your point about the gap between expectations in the role of CEO or startup founder, or investor – and the reality of depressive events/emotions that are often present – but no one gets to expose or relinquish.

I felt this first hand in my experience, both as co-founder and later as CEO. I used to *hate* seeing people around town or whatever because they’d ask “how’s the startup going?” and usually extra commentary like “oh startup rockstar, and you must be killing it, etc…” and my answer was always “no, it’s fucking unbelievable hard, and anxious, and trying, and most of the time shit is more fucked up than you could ever imagine”. You live with that veil and it always made it worse when people wanted to interact with you but position it as only successful sounding answers would work.

I learned to approach others the way I wanted to be approached:

1) I recognize everyone has a “bag of despair” they carry – you can’t see it, and anything can be in there, work, home, friends, family – serious shit is wrong somewhere for everyone at most points in time. So know it’s there, don’t assume and ask questions from ridiculously positive framing, but rather in a way that lets folks share honestly and is then actually helpful dialog to them (if they do want to take the opportunity to disclose challenges and discuss)

2) when someone asks “how’s it going” be honest – share the good and the bad, but don’t feel like you have to fulfill the stereotype and give them the sugar coated answer

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Jul 11 2017

America Is Pushing Entrepreneurship To Other Countries

Yesterday, the White House announced it was delaying and likely eliminating the International Entrepreneur Rule. This rule is the closest we’ve come to a Startup Visa, something I’ve been working on with numerous other people since 2009. Several failed bills in Congress, a failed bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, and an Executive Order later, and we still have nothing.

I’m disappointed but not surprised. Steve Case says it really well in his article America Will Fall Behind Without Immigrant Entrepreneurs. I won’t repeat his words here because I agree 100% with them. I encourage you to go read his post if this is a topic you care about.

If you just want Steve’s punch line, it follows:

“The data is clear: immigrant entrepreneurs are job makers, not job takers. And today, we just pushed them to create jobs somewhere else.”

Jeff Farrah of The National Venture Capital Association wrote a thoughtful post titled An Unforced Error for Job Creation. It explains what the International Entrepreneurship Rule is and why delaying and rescinding it is at fundamental odds with a number of goals of the Trump Administration. Jeff’s article ends with a clear message.

“Finally, rescinding the rule is at odds with the administration’s goal of advancing emerging technology. Last month, top VCs joined President Trump at the White House to discuss how to bring to life next-generation technology. What was one of the key recommendations from venture leaders? Retain the International Entrepreneur Rule so the best technology is created and developed here rather than overseas. Today’s action is 180 degrees from the recommendation of successful startup leaders.

The administration’s move is certainly a setback, but it’s far from the end of the road. NVCA will continue to be the leading voice in Washington for immigrant entrepreneurship. We’ll continue to advocate that the Trump Administration reverse course and allow the International Entrepreneur Rule to take effect. Only then will the United States realize the full benefit of immigrant entrepreneurs to our nation.”

While I agree that it’s a setback, in the eight years since a group of us started advocating for a startup visa, entrepreneurship has taken off around the world. A number of other countries now have startup visas modeled after the original US startup visa idea. As entrepreneurship is democratizing the world, the US has exported a great idea for attracting entrepreneurs to one’s country, while denying the US’s ability to do this for itself.

That’s unfortunate and disappointing for the US, but great for the rest of the world.

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May 19 2017

YPO Innovation Week

In March, YPO and Techstars launched a partnership to support high-growth entrepreneurship and innovation. As a kickoff to that, Techstars co-sponsored YPO Innovation Week.

I did a one hour interview with Kate Rogers from CNBC last Friday. It was a fun interview for me and I felt like we covered a lot of good stuff.

Steve Case kicked off YPO Innovation Week with an interview, also with Kate Rogers. I listened to it in advance of my interview and thought it was extremely well done.

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May 9 2017

Venture Deals Online Course – 2017

The Venture Deals Online Course for this spring starts this Sunday May 14, 2017 and runs through July 3, 2017.  The Kauffman Fellows Academy and Techstars are co-hosting the course. It’s free – all you need to do is sign up.

This is the fifth time we are running the course. So far more than 5,000 people around the globe have done it and we’ve gotten to meet and collaborate with entrepreneurs from six continents.

While our book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist is the basis for the course, we have extensive exercises, additional content, and a highly engaged community to answer questions. Jason and I make regular visits, both in the online discussion sections as well as periodic AMAs. In addition, the team from Techstars is also engaging throughout the program.

If you are interested in entrepreneurship and how startup deals work, here’s a great chance to go deep on this with me, Jason, Kauffman Fellows, and Techstars.

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Apr 13 2017

Colorado Global EIR 2017 Applications

The 2017 applications for the Colorado Global EIR are now open through April 15, 2017.

The Colorado Global EIR program is a way for experienced international entrepreneurs to receive an H-1B visa, allowing them to work in Boulder. They must commit to working 20 hours per week at CU Boulder (supporting cross-campus entrepreneurial activities), and of course, will be paid for doing so.

In their spare time, we encourage GEiR (Global Entrepreneurs in Residence) to either establish their existing company, create and launch a new company, co-found a new company or join a local startup here in Boulder. This will allow them to retain their H-1B status and thus remain in the U.S.

Any entrepreneur with a college or graduate school degree, and with a track record (or a very strong interest) in entrepreneurship, technology commercialization, and leadership is a good candidate You will work part-time on the CU Boulder campus for 20 hours per week, supporting the CU Boulder entrepreneurship and commercialization efforts, including the New Venture Challenge, a range of teaching and extracurricular activities, and Catalyze CU.

You also get to start and grow a new company in the supportive, collaborative, and dynamic entrepreneurial community of Boulder, Colorado.

GEiR terms will begin September 2017 (or once visas are approved) on a one-year basis, with a potential opportunity for renewal up to two additional years.

You can apply for the Colorado Global EIR 2017 or email geir-apply@colorado.edu.

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Apr 5 2017

The $100K Award At The CU Boulder New Venture Challenge

In the fall of 2007, my friend Phil Weiser, Executive Director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center, convened 25 leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder / Denver startup community. We spent an afternoon talking about the idea of an entrepreneurial university. Phil called the meeting a Roundtable, even though the table was long and rectangular.

The discussion that day was heated. Some in the room that day questioned whether entrepreneurship should – or even could – be a significant part of CU Boulder. Others made the case for entrepreneurship. Few of us anticipated the level of follow up from that discussion and the report that emerged set the stage for a lot of activity at CU Boulder over the ensuing decade.

One of my suggestions at the 2007 Roundtable was to borrow some ideas from the MIT 100K competition, which was started in 1989 as the MIT $10k. I got involved as a judge in 1993 and was active through 1997 with occasional visits to the finals in subsequent years when I was around Boston. When I reflect on my investment activity, including companies that went through the MIT 10K (NetGenesis, Harmonix, abuzz, and a bunch of others), I probably should have just invested $25,000 in every finalist company over the last 25 years.

In 2008, a group of student and faculty volunteers from CU Boulder launched the CU New Venture Challenge. Nine years later, the CU NVC today provides a platform for anyone – faculty, staff or student – who wants to start a company. The NVC integrates the campus by including all schools and departments. Mentors from the Boulder / Denver startup scene are deeply involved and many companies are emerging from the NVC, including Revolar, Pana, and Malinda.

Amy and I have decided to help take the NVC to the next level. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) is teaming up with the Caruso Foundation (Dan & Cindy Caruso) to offer a $50,000 investment prize offered to the “Most Fundable Company” at the 2017 NVC 9 Championships. This is in addition to the $25,000 prize money that the NVC already has available. Jason Mendelson will select and announce the Most Fundable Company winner, who can elect to take investment in the form of a convertible note, at the NVC 9 Championship.

So, the CU NVC is now is $75k competition. Next step, $100k … Finals are Thursday, April 6, at 5:30pm.

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Mar 27 2017

When One Month Of Real Time Is Three Months of Company Time

Most of us learned about dog years as children. Unfortunately, the adage that one human year = 7 dog years is not entirely correct, as dogs mature much faster than humans and the aging process depends on the size of the dogs. But the general idea works.

Recently, I was in a board meeting at a company that had increased its revenue by a factor of four in 2016. We were discussing two things: (1) the 2017 budget and (2) all the things that broke in 2016 that we needed to fix in 2017. After a long, healthy discussion, we did an AMA with the whole company.

I’ve been fortunate to be involved in some extremely high growth companies. It can be a blast, but it’s also daunting. Everyone always has this strange look in their eyes that is a combination of being exhausted while knowing they are on a rocketship ride they are supposed to be enjoying.

During the AMA, I looked around the room a had an insight that most of the people had never experienced this pace of growth before. I suddenly had a thought which I decided to try out on the audience.

“Y’all are experiencing something rare. It happens to a few companies, but not that many. You are currently in a phase where one month of real time is equal to three months of company time. It’s like dog years. You are jamming four years of company time into every year of real time. That’s why it is so intense.”

A lot of head nodding ensued.

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Mar 3 2017

The Magic of Dealing With Your Demons

Jessi Hempel from Backchannel just wrote an amazing profile piece on my close friend Jerry Colonna. It’s titled This Man Makes Founders CryMedium estimates that it’s an 18 minute read and I assert that it’s worth every minute.

Jerry Contemplating Something

I’ve known and worked with Jerry since 1996. I now get to call him my neighbor as he moved from New York to Boulder a few years ago. If you want a taste of our relationship, I’ve written a lot about him over the years. Following are a few recent ones.

There are a few people other than Amy and my family who I love. For example, I love my partners. I love Len Fassler, who remains to this day my most influential mentor. And I love Jerry.

There are many choice quotes in the article, but to give you a taste, here are a few.

  • “Jerry?” he responds. “That guy saved my life.” – Bart Lorang, FullContact CEO
  • “There was this moment where you admitted to each other that you were working with him. It’s not an official thing, but there is this almost secret society of people who’ve been coached by Jerry.” – Chad Dickerson, Etsy CEO
  • “Campbell had a testosterone-infused Silicon Valley kind of model. Jerry’s model is more Buddhism and less football.” – Fred Wilson, USV partner
  • “There are a lot of people you can go to who will teach you to be a better manager. Jerry understands the psychology of leadership.” – Alexander Ljung, Soundcloud CEO 
  • “Until we make the unconscious conscious, we will be dictated by it and call it fate.” – Jerry quoting Jung
  • “The Reboot team possesses an otherworldly talent for coaxing authenticity and truth out of people. They can even coax truths out of people who, like myself, have been lying to themselves for years.” – Jacob Chapman Gelt VC partner
  • “Life sucks and it’s okay. Life is great, and it’s okay. Life goes up and it’s okay; life goes down and it’s okay. If we can instill a sense of resilience in people, we mitigate suffering.” – Jerry

Go read the entire article on Jerry. And, if you want more, go listen to the Reboot podcast.

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Jan 9 2017

Origin Stories

I love origin stories. Some of them glorify entrepreneurship in a way that makes them challenging to parse, as the struggles of our heroines and heroes gets romanticized in a way that tastes sugary sweet. But, when they are written in first person, unedited, on a blog, they are often delicious in a tasty and fulfilling way.

Jud Valeski, the co-founder of Gnip, wrote a great one a few days ago. It’s titled How Did Gnip Get The Twitter Deal? and does a thorough job of telling the story from Jud’s perspective. If that’s all that was there, it’d be a solid origin story.

But then Doug Williams, who was on the Twitter side of the Gnip / Twitter origin story, weighs in with a comment that is the same length as Jud’s post. And now we get Doug’s view. Not the official Twitter view. Not the C7H5NO3S version that has been denuded of anything challenging and controversial.

The combination is delicious and worth reading. I lived it as an investor and only have two categories of things to add. The first is that the most important role of the investor in deals like this is to talk your team (in this case Jud and Rob) off the cliff. Or, more likely, to take the flamethrower out of their hands before they started spraying it on everyone in sheer frustration. The other is a few well timed phone calls to key people (in this case, Dick Costolo, who totally saw the value of the relationship but at the time was trying to navigate whatever the current version of Twitter dynamics were.)

The end of Jud’s post has two extremely important points in it. The first to play by the rules of your partner.

“This conflict between your product and the publisher, is real, and it can make or break you. On one hand, you want revenue, and if you break/bend the rules, you can get more of it. However, doing so puts you at odds with the publisher (arguably your bread and butter). Take your pick. We chose to play by the rules and were able to navigate to a successful partnership and outcome. We firmly believed that breaking/bending the rules would yield an incrementally small amount of revenue, and never actually let the business get as big as it could. Think about it this way, black markets exist, and always will, but they’re never as big as the open market. Pursue the open market, sure, it’s harder, but the rewards are bigger. If the only way you have a business is by breaking rules, stop what you’re doing and go do something else; that’s ultimately lame; explain that one to your kids.”

The other is what we called “Be Everywhere That Twitter Is.”

“We spent years cultivating relationships inside Twitter (from the CEO, which changed a few times during our efforts), to mid-level, to developers, to BD, to on and on and on). When we were at a conference and there was a Twitter person there, we elbowed our way to them to get a word in. When Twitter put on conferences, we were there. When Twitter wouldn’t answer the phone because we were that annoying gnat in the swarm, we backed off the calls until we had something significant to put in front of them (a new feature, a new business milestone). Partnership negotiation is a fine line between expressing your need for the other partnership, and illustrating your ability to be independent.

And Doug, in his conclusion, reinforces the value of that approach.

“I’ll leave you with this final anecdote. While in the midst of the start of our initial term sheet negotiations with GNIP, my team was moved under a new executive. After bringing him up to speed, he told me he didn’t like the strategy and called it off. That day, he and I were to meet with Jud and push things forward. I had to break this news to Jud that the exec had pulled the plug and wouldn’t be at the meeting. It’s difficult to say who was more heartbroken at this point. In his patient and persistent way, Jud keep calling. He kept asking questions. He kept showing up at the office. We kept working on the term sheet and he motivated me to go to bat again. Again, we eventually got the nod. Luck, timing and patience paid off, but more than all kept Jud showing up. That is the ultimate lesson he taught me, one that I carry with me every day.”

There’s a lot of healthy and tasty juice in this origin story. Jud / Doug – thanks for putting it out there.

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Jan 4 2017

Entrepreneurship Is Intellectual Immigration

At the MIT Celebration of 50 Years of Entrepreneurship in November, I heard a number of fantastic lines that have stuck with me. One of them was from Noubar Afeyan.

“Entrepreneurship is intellectual immigration.”

As I sat in an audience of about 200 extremely accomplished MIT graduates spanning over 50 years, I thought to myself “he just fucking nailed it.”

I’m a huge fan and supporter of immigration, especially around entrepreneurship. If you look at the landscape of success entrepreneurs in the United States you see a remarkable number of first and second generation immigrants. We can argue about immigration policy all day long (and plenty in DC do, mostly to insure that nothing actually gets accomplished) but the historical statistics around immigration and entrepreneurship in the US are undeniable.

Noubar talked about immigration being “going someplace outside of your comfort zone.” Every first generation immigrant I’ve ever met has talked about immigrating to the US as something akin to this. Many entrepreneurs I’ve met have articulated a similar emotion around their experience leaving whatever they were doing to start a new company.

My whole life has been built around the idea of intellectual immigration. I’m constantly exploring new things, getting out of my comfort zone, and moving toward new “things.” As part of this, I’m moving away from (emigrating away) from old, established things.

Ponder that.

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